It spirals and spins out of control. The emotions and thoughts are a raging waterfall and I’m caught up in their current. In a matter of seconds I’m flailing my arms, gagging and spitting, and trying to stay afloat, all the while the river is pulling me forcefully over the side of the cliff.
I can’t seem to stop. The fall is inevitable. I brace myself. Crash. Splash. Ouch. I come up for air, trying desperately to find solid ground beneath me, swim to shore, or catch my breathe. Anything to keep from drowning.
I don’t always realize it’s there, but perched at the edge of my soul is a rumbling waterfall, waiting to drag me over. Many days I get closer to it than I should, I can sense it’s power to take me away.
It happened just this week.
My husband and I were in a disagreement. Quickly, the frustrations mounted, and our emotions escalated. Our voices were loud, our looks were evil. We couldn’t stop hurting each other. He angry. Me in tears. We parted our separate ways to give each other space to settle down.
Instead of surrendering to the calm, I got caught up in the raging river of all that I was feeling and thinking. The negative thoughts sucked the last bit of strength out of me, and pummeled me over the edge. Before I knew it, I was thinking about how I could cancel a meeting with friends the next day, questioning all my abilities from mothering to writing, and worst of all believing that I was worthless and ugly, a fake. I had gone over the waterfall again.
What happened? How did I get from a bicker with my husband over the kids’ nighttime routine to doubting my own identity as a beloved and cherished one? I’m not sure.
It’s a wicked concoction of things that ultimately sends us over the edge. Thankfully, I’ve learned a few tactics and tools along the way from all my near-drowning experiences. By God’s grace I am figuring out how to swim upstream, avoiding the chaos that lurks just around the bend, and making sure to unravel myself from the rope-like lies that lead me nowhere but down.
Here are five quick and quiet strategies to settle your emotions/thoughts/feelings when they want to push you around.
In his book, The Listening Life, Adam McHugh states,
By silently greeting the anxiety or hurt or anger that arises, or by noticing the subtle shift in our body even if you can’t put words to it yet, you disarm some of its power in the moment and you become less likely to speak or act it out.
He goes on to say we should continue with the conversation at hand then later go back to identify the layers. These layers are, “indicators, pointing at something beyond themselves, namely needs. Negative emotions indicate an unmet need. In every negative emotion there is a positive need behind it.”
The next time you sense your emotions trying to take over a conversation or wield you single-handedly over the waterfall, stop and say “Hello” just for a moment. You will thank yourself later.
Change the Script.
When I’m getting lost in the chaos of all my messy thoughts and emotions. I am quick to realize these are not from God. Paul gives us wise instruction, in Philippians 4 he declares, “And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise.”
Immediately, when I start drifting down into despair, I give myself permission to think drastically opposite of the script running through my head. For instance, if I’m ruminating on these awesome lies, “You just fought with your husband… you are a horrible wife…incapable of ever encouraging others… you should never speak again.” I swap that out with, “I did just fight with my husband, but that is not who I am. He loves me. God loves me. I am a beautiful person created to do great things for the God’s kingdom.”
Let God always have the final say.
Crack a window, step outside, or take a deep breath. Perspective doesn’t come in an instant, but it will always find you. I’ve discovered when I do something else, make the bed, take a shower, or stare outside, my roaming thoughts that were once on a rampage, seem to shrink back to size. The situation isn’t as devastating as it seems. Life is not over. I am going to make it.
Welcome perspective and all the insight and revelation it carries.
Spill Your Soul.
As you gather all your wayward thoughts and feelings, offer them up to God, the only one who can handle them in all their intense honesty. The Word directs us to, “Trust in him at all times, you people; pour out your hearts to him, for God is our refuge.” (Psalm 62:8)
Being vulnerable with God is a secret weapon. In spilling out the inner turmoil of our souls we tap into a quiet strength; and we are saved from the downward spiral.
If we listen intently to Him, he reveals the roots, encourages us to shed the layers, and offers an enough grace, peace, and rest to calm our wild emotions. Remember, we need soul-care more than self-care. “The formation of the soul is the most important process in the universe…even contemporary research indicates the power God has placed in the soul to be master of our emotions.” John Ortberg
Dig Your Feet Into Forgiveness.
Forgiveness is the only way forward. Forgiving others and ourselves gives us super hero power to swim upstream. When forgiveness is flowing out of our hearts, nothing can defeat us or drag us down. Forgiveness makes us free and keeps us free. We are no longer victims to heavy situations, overwhelming emotions and shame, or discouraging thoughts, we can rise above them and taste victory.
The Good News is unleashed as we dig our feet into forgiveness. We find solid ground beneath us- we are not stuck here.
And lastly, a little bonus tip from this rhythmically challenged girl, having your own little dance party is a guaranteed way to confidently sort through big emotions. Try it for 10 minutes in the privacy of your bedroom. A good beat can magically loosen your body, lighten your mood, crack your smile free, and almost without you even knowing, you are pulled back from the raging waterfall. “A happy heart is good medicine and a joyful mind causes healing, but a broken spirit dries up the bones.” (Proverbs 17:22)
Which one of these are most helpful for you? I’d love to hear what you do when you emotions/thoughts/feelings want to manipulate your actions and mess up your days.